January 24th, 2005

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Looping Around Full Circle
How I Came To Love Brookies

By Nate Gubbins

We all knew fly fishing was for trout; and the learning curve wouldn't be easy. But as any fisher knows, they often fall in love with the first species they learn something from. With this in mind, I'll admit I don't know what it is that makes the miniature char of the lower 48 so utterly amazing and appealing.

I caught my first brook trout as a matter of sheer luck and coincidence. I was relatively new to fly fishing, and since I was around 15, I was full of youthful enthusiasm (heck I still am). I was trying to learn all I could about tying and fishing dry flies, since those elusive and adored trout were years beyond my abilities. I had read my uncle's book by Oliver Edwards, something about a 'Masterclass,' and gotten some interesting ideas about how to tie a dry fly with an extended body. So for the fun of it I tried tying one, a #16 with a tan folded hackle body, thread thorax, pheasant flat wings and a white parachute style hackle. I took my only rod in possession, an eight and a half foot 6/7 weight Pro Graphite and the lightest tippet I had ever used, some Fenwick 4X I picked up from Gander Mountain, down to the local trout pond by the dam.

When I got there, I found little activity to indicate any feeding activity. I had done the reading, memorized books by Jorgensen and Leiser, and thought I might be lucky to even recognize any of the "rises" and "dimples" made by trout. Suddenly, about 40 feet out from shore, I thought I saw what looked like a sunfish take a bug from the surface... but it was a little different. It was slow, easy, and deliberate. Trout? With no clue as how to identify bugs, I could only guess what to do. I tied that parachute mayfly to my leader, put on some Gink that was fatefully given to me by my uncle, and made a cast. I was amazed at how the fly just sat there, landed so gracefully, and sat so pristinely on the surface. It was so perfect.

Suddenly it disappeared in a small splash. Surprise took over, and I jumped a bit, unaware of what to do. Reality set in just as quickly, and I tightened up as a small, lanky, silvery fish twisted and turned against the resistance of a 7 weight. A few seconds later, in my hand was this little fish unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Its fins were edged in white and black, its back was laced with small yellow markings, and its belly took on a tinge of fluorescent orange. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I was awestruck and something unimaginably deep inside of me stirred to feel a fondness for this fish, this little awkward gem that didn't know what real fish should be marked like. That one little trout ate my first dry fly I had ever tied, and it ate it on the first awkward cast. I was fully and utterly, for lack of a better word, hooked.

The next season I knew what brook trout were, I knew they loved Mickey Finns, and I knew that spring was the time to get them. I took a couple dozen homemade Finns to the pond with the same spool of 4X, only now I was going "ultralight" with a 4/5 weight. For days, I broke off trout that smashed those little streamers with no stopping or second thoughts. And at the same time, about half of them stuck. Suddenly I found myself holding colorful, not silvery, trout in my hand. Some of them were I now realize good size, but at the time I was catching "tiny" trout that were 13 inches long. If only I had known the graces set forth unto me by forces up above, but I cherished my days nonetheless. I raced out there after school, I made a point of it over my weekends.

And then real life hit. The dreamy mysterious fish I had chased in my childhood was disappearing as trips to the Big River were becoming frequent, I knew what real trout were like. But nothing about a 17 inch brown on 7X and #18 BWOs compared to those spirited little brookies from the pond could do. Nothing matched their color, their eagerness to satisfy a heart longing for someone looking to play, nothing could match the grace that even the tiniest brookie carried with it. I found the highlights of my days on the River were those in which I took brookies--nymphs, dries, streamers, it didn't matter and doesn't to this day.

Then I found a real brookie stream, and I thought I'd found heaven. Billions of eager trout ready to eat, but somehow, it lacked the cat and mouse game of "who had who" that the trout from my pond at home had. It just wasn't there. Until I discovered, beyond any doubts, the real underlying meaning of what fishing is. One day I discovered a wild pond that no one else knew about. It was over a hundred yards from the main river, and it had only 20 fish in it. But they were wild, and in the crystal clear water I could watch but not cast--the coloration and markings on them were beyond what the books showed. I tried to catch some, believe me I did, but a 13 foot leader, 7X tippets, and #22 caddis on a 1 weight didn't fool even the 4 inchers.

But once in a while fate pities the weary, and recently I found it in myself to go check out that pond again. With the sun setting, shadows were no problem, and I knotted a size 22 Tak's midge to my line, a fly that my dad had given me to try one day--for "when you need it." Midges were coming off the main river, so I tried it. Same rod, same leader, same fish--and on the third cast, a swirl appeared where I thought my fly should have been. I tightened, and resistance struggled back as my leader jiggled an S curve through the glassy mirror on my little pond. I got the fish to hand, savoring every moment of it, and when I looked at what I held in my hand, I felt tears appear in my eyes.

It was a wild trout, the first I had truly known. It was slim from a hard life in the bush, and for its length was sadly thin. But it bore the same spirit for fight and for the fly that my trout from back home had. It had colors beyond comprehensible, colors that were so vivid they flowed with life themselves as the fish they belonged to gasped for air. It had fins that were brighter white than bleach could have created, and a belly so orange that it was nearly red. Its sides were such a rich green that a leprechaun would have been shamed, laced with golden stripes richer than Fort Knox. It looked at me and begged to be let go, to live and breed in its own little pool in the woods. I removed the midge, and let it slide back into the water from my hand. It sat for a moment, pondering a renewed freedom before kicking off into the pool. And then I wondered why I sat there with tears in my eyes. It was an easy answer.

Thanks Dad, for giving me that fly. I needed it.

I took a few more from the pool, another on a Tak's, but a different fly--the original wound up in a tree right over where the trout, my trout, had taken it. I suppose it was a memento. A third, about 8 inches and just as vivid as the first took a tiny Royal Coachman I had tied for my girlfriend with a promise I'd fish it and make it mean something. The last ate a Mickey Finn, one of the original batch I'd tied up three years previous for the trout in the pond back home.

It's funny how these things come full circle. ~ Nate Gubbins


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